Notes on UWF forum on the anniversary of the BP disaster

Last night I sat on a panel regarding the BP disaster: what happened, what did we learn and where are we now. The panel included Dr. Dick Snyder, director of the UWF Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation; Dr. Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development; Keith Wilkins, Escambia County’s deputy chief of neighborhood and community services; and Dr. Enid Sisskin, adjunct Professor at the University of West Florida, teaching Environmental Health and Environmental Toxicology.

“Frustration” was the word that Snyder believed best summed up his feelings about how the oil spill was handled. Without any BP, state or federal funding, he and his team collected water and sand samples monitoring for invisible presence of crude oil. He pointed out that we know very little about the Gulf of Mexico because the federal government only spent a fraction the funds spent researching and studying Chesapeake Bay, California coast line, Hudson River or Great Lakes on the gulf.

There was very little baseline data on the marine life, currents and hatcheries. Currently there are 26 projects by state universities on the gulf that are funded by a grant from BP. Four projects are being conducted by UWF.

“The good news is the oil is mostly gone,” said Snyder, who said that his samples have been getting non-detects since August. Bacteria has eaten a great deal of it, but isn’t known is the impact of on the plankton that feed on that bacteria and on the fish that feed on the plankton. While there are plenty of big fish now, we don’t know the impact on eggs, larva and juveniles.

Also marine biologists and fishermen are finding fish with weird lesions, wounds that don’t heal and abnormalities (National Geographic)

Dr. Rick Harper said that the economic impact of the oil spill has rippled throughout our economy. “The distress is spread broadly,” he said. Of the state’s eight tourist regions, Northwest Florida is the only one solely dependent on the 10-12 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. “We are the most seasonal economy in Florida,” said Harper. “Tourism is our largest taxable sector with its bed taxes and gross receipt taxes.”

While the loss of income is simple to calculate, the impact of the spill on companies’ balance sheets and values is much harder to do. To date, BP and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility have been unwilling to pay claims on those claims.

Keith Wilkins said the Florida is the only state without an onsite state coordinator at the Incident Command in Louisiana. Since Gov. Scott has put a moratorium on all out-of-state travel, DEP has sent anyone over there, even though they have the funds to do so. The county has offered to send a person, but DEP has refused the request.

Dr. Enid Siskin talked about health concerns. What is commonly known as the “BP plague” (see more). She said the general health of public along the Gulf region wasn’t good before the oil spill. She quoted Dr. Mike Robicheux from Baton Rouge who has been treating the recovery workers (Ill health is part of Deepwater legacy).